These animals inspire better body armor for humans

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If you’ve seen best-picture contender Black Panther leading up to the weekend’s Academy Awards, then you most likely marveled at the title character’s Vibranium suit. It’s virtually the most incredible armor ever made. For instance, some creatures create their armor. Shells, exoskeletons, it leaves us to wonder about those real-life armor suits. How strong are they? Meet the bio-inspiration for these armor suits.

Armadillos

These creatures are not exactly bulletproof. Their shells are made of bony plates called osteoderms that grow in their skin. These shells are loosely connected for flexibility and contain keratin. (Keratin is the protein found in the nails, hair, and horns.)

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The casing protects the armadillos from thorny trees, beneath which they may hide from predators. However, if a predator like a dog or a raptor does get to them, they could still readily violate the shell. Think like a suitcase than a bulletproof vest of this armor.

Nevertheless, the armadillo’s segmented osteoderms inspired researchers at Montreal’s McGill University to produce a protective cloth out of glass plates segmented into hexagons and set atop a soft palate. The material was shown to be 70 percent more puncture-resistant than the usual continuous plate of the identical thickness.

Abalone

The abalone creates numerous layers of calcium carbonate plates, with one-two hundredths of width like a human hair that are bound with a glue-like protein. Abalone shells coating is like bricks and mortar structure. Chalk makes it sturdy, and the protein lets the plates to slide; the shell can absorb impact without even shattering.

Marc Meyers of the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, and her team expect that a better understanding of how the abalone shell’s architecture works might help develop better bulletproof body armor for soldiers and authorities.

Arapaimas

The arapaima is the equivalent of this battleship, an enormous freshwater fish. They can grow up to 10 feet long and can live in the quarters with piranhas in the Amazon lakes, without fear of piranhas’ overwhelming chompers. 

Arapaima armor is a staggered layer of flexible scales that are made from collagen and have a mineralized cover to seal it. Arapaima’s have an average of three layers. These sturdy yet flexible scales provide another inspiration to engineers looking to develop armor. Even the challenging outer coating prevents predators away by biting through the scales, and also the collagen has enough supply to allow for significant impact before breaking. The roughened surface of the scale helps keep its integrity.

Ironclad beetles

Found in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, the ironclad beetle is a robust specimen. It requires a drill or hammer to get through its body. When exposed, they yank their legs and antennae into special notches in their casing, leaving predators out of their stronghold. Their thick exoskeletons are made of chitin, a polysaccharide, arranged in such a way that the ironclad beetle if run over by a motor vehicle or truck and still survive. Their exoskeletons help prevent dehydration by providing the capacity to store water.

Pangolins

Pangolins are covered with large, overlapping plates made of keratin through and through. They indeed are the only known mammal to have accurate scales, and so are known as “scaly anteaters.” It rolls using its scales if it feels threatened. Their scales are lightweight and fracture-resistant because of the method by which the keratin is organized. And when the scales do crack, the cracks are steered away from the soft tissue.

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